We always hear about crises in education. Teacher turnover, teacher shortage, achievement gaps, budget shortages, and the list goes on. There is a more insidious crisis that is affecting educators around the world. In a profession that demands you always do more with less, burnout is a very real problem.
I experienced burnout firsthand, and hope that strategies I used can help others. I have met teachers who have reached such a state of burnout that they leave the profession. We can't afford to lose more teachers. In pre-flight emergency instructions we learn to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. If we don't take care of ourselves we will not be able to care for our students.
The problem with burnout is that you are usually well into it before you can identify it. You may be irritable, negative, exhausted, depressed, and not even recognize it. But then you think back to another time in your life and realize you weren't always that way. There was a time when you laughed more, smiled more, socialized more. There was a time where being an educator inspired you.
The following strategies- in order from easy->hard allowed me to crawl from a deep place of burnout. I hope that some of these can help you and that we can move forward together.
1) Baby Steps: Moving & Meditating.
I remember a day on my couch feeling helpless and exhausted. My mother asked me to go on a walk with her and I felt like that might make me feel better. I walked, and thought to myself "I feel good. I need to do more of this." I also began working through the Headspace app and fitting in 10 minute sessions. I am currently using Simple Habit for my meditation practice.
2) Talk to Someone.
We have an unhelpful stigma around mental health in our society. Counseling is the number one way I have managed my anxiety and stress throughout the course of my career. See if your school has an Employee Assistance Program or seek out someone local. You can find them on Psychology Today. I also recommend Talkspace.com. It is a digital asynchronous counseling service that works with an educator schedule. If you sign up and don't like your counselor, you can request new ones until you find a fit.
3) Change your diet.
I never realized how much diet affects my stress and anxiety until I cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, and coffee. Teacher Appreciation Week is an outpouring of support and love. Unfortunately it can be a sugar overdose in the stressful month of May. I remember in my first teaching job we had a big M & M jar that we all gravitated to at the end of the day. What is it about chocolate and teaching? Eliminating sugar and caffeine from my diet have helped me manage my stress. This one is further down the list because this change is very challenging but it works.
4) Quit your job.
If you are in a situation where you are not supported or the stress is overwhelming you may need to consider a move. Sometimes a move within your own system to another location or into another role can help. Sometimes you may need to seek new work with another school or system entirely. No matter where you are in your career you should always cultivate your network. The act of looking at roles and applying for them can help you to see potential future paths. This is the most challenging but it is sometimes necessary.
No matter your role now- it will always matter in the scheme of your career. Even jobs that lead you to burnout can be transformative in your life. They help you learn coping mechanisms and they make you stronger. These are often the most meaningful times of our career.
At the end of the day we can't pour from an empty cup. If you haven't done this in a while dedicate a day to yourself. Get a massage, do some yoga, take a nap. Use the summer to recharge for the fall. Whatever works to recharge your battery. Your students deserve you at your best.
If you are experiencing burnout I would like to help. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info !
2016 was an incredible year for me. I got engaged, married, and was recognized for work in my field. I took my first yoga and meditation retreat and I spent more time with friends and family than I do in most years. But it was also one of the hardest years of my life. I hit all-time highs of stress and anxiety, to the point where I lost interest in many activities I normally love. In the spring I picked up Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before, and began to intentionally exercise, rest, and create the foundational habits that would eventually get me out of my malaise.
I learned several things in the process and have used those to set the foundation for 2017. For one, Rubin’s framework helps you understand how to deal with habits and accountability. I discovered that I am in the Obliger category. (Take the quiz Here to find out your tendency). I am excellent with commitments to others, but terrible with commitments to myself. This explained why I’m terrible at going to the gym without a class scheduled, and why I will often move events and tasks that others ask of me in front of my own on my To-Do list.
Armed with this knowledge, I knew what worked and what didn’t work. I sought out professionals, apps, and other tools that would provide me the external accountability that I needed. To get in shape before my wedding (and through the New Year) I worked with a personal trainer. I began to use the Headspace application for meditation and made plans with friends when I wanted to stick to a commitment. I noticed that these worked much better than the habits I tried to build all on my own. I learned that (for me) if I want to build habits I have to create an external accountability structure around my goals.
I learned that trying to do things for more than 20 minutes at a time was a recipe for failure. Planning one-hour exercise sessions, 30 minute meditations, and other blocks of time every day did not work. It was sporadic and I usually fell apart after 10-15 day streaks.
So this year is the year of the tiny habit! Everything I want to accomplish, I am shrinking into less than 20 minute chunks. I have Headspace set to 10 minutes. I am keeping a 5 minute journal. I am creating habits around a 7 minute workout app and 20 minute yoga downloads. In one hour, I can accomplish all of the daily habits I want to build.
There is one more element I discovered that works well for me: Routines. I have always struggled to create a morning routine. It usually falls apart on the weekends or when I’m traveling. In the week leading up to New Year's Day I began working through routines. I started with an app called Marv that walks you through your morning routine. Although I loved that robot voice talking me through my morning, I needed something a little more subtle throughout the day. Now I am using an app called Routine although there are several available. I set the routine and it lines up a series of timers to keep me moving across each habit. Here is a sample of my routine:
Brush teeth (3 min)
7 min workout and 20 min yoga (30 min)
Meditate (10 min)
5 minute journal (5 min)
Side Room Tidy* (3 min)
Get Ready (20 min)
Make Bed (2 min)
Bed/Bathroom Tidy* (3 min)
Breakfast (10 min)
Main Room Tidy* (3 min)
Water Plants (5 min)
Pack work bag/lunch (5 min)
Total: 1 Hr, 40 minutes.
*Adding in tiny chores can help your place stay organized or even make progress on a chore without realizing it.
Having an evening routine really helps smooth out the morning routine, especially if you include picking out clothes for the next day, making sure lunch is easily accessible, and any other elements that can be moved from the morning to the night before. I also have a work routine set up that includes to-do lists, focused work, email management, and intermittent breaks.
As an Obliger, I realize and embrace the fact that I need external accountability in order to reach my goals. Even if that accountability is a robot or a computer program, I respond much better to an outside voice than to the one in my head. I can’t say whether I will stick to this excellent beginning-of-year habit, but I hope I do. It has helped me have grounded quiet time for reflection in the morning, to live in a clean and organized space, and to leave the house feeling at peace before the workday begins.
Happy New Year! As you know, the educator has a completely different annual cycle than the average person. The new year for us is not January 1st, but rather August 1st (or September 1 for the Northeasterners and Canadians) or maybe even later. All that to say that our year starts and ends at very different times than the calendar year. It's a great time to make resolutions and build habits that will sustain you throughout the next ten months of school. A mentor teacher once told me, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be fully there for your kids.
The following are some productivity and wellness tips I've picked up over the years from rockstar teachers and leaders. Pick and choose what works for you, and get set up to have the best year yet.
1. Bring your lunch. And snacks.
This will save you time at lunch to collaborate with colleagues and give you more control over what you eat. If there is something that you like on the lunch menu, just plan around that. I will always love square pizza. Planning around the food that will fuel you through the day is important. Bagging up snacks for the week so you can grab and go can be a great time saver and can help combat the non-stop sweets that seem to be everywhere in schools.
2. Set out your wardrobe for the whole week.
This is so much better than the night before, because I find I get increasingly exhausted as the week goes on. Teachers make decisions all day, so any that you can eliminate from your routine will save that valuable brain space for the tough stuff that you will inevitably encounter in this profession.
3. Long Term Planning
In whatever way works for you, map out your whole year on your calendar or in your notebook. As you do these plans, make sure they are editable from year to year. Think in terms of Yearly Plans, Monthly Plans, Weekly Plans, and Daily Plans. Your school or system will ask a lot of you in terms of goal-setting and continuous improvement, but it is important to have easily accessible things that work for you. I'm currently obsessed with The Bullet Journal. In the past I have made my goals and plans visible on chart paper or whiteboard, or have held them digitally in Google Drive, Evernote, and Trello. Always be moving toward your yearly goals or even those goals that are 5 or 10 years out. So many of us are in additional degree programs or other professional advancement opportunities, that keeping your goals and plans at front and center is so important not to get caught up in the busyness of things.
4. Stop taking work home.
You don't need to take work home with you. At least, you should do everything in your power not to. My dad always said "Everything takes the amount of time that you give it.". Granted, teacher time is taken up by the actual instruction of students, so how could they catch up on grading, emails, etc? Teachers that don't take work home are usually masters of time. They will get to work early each day, or stay later. They will use every bit of planning period or transition to accomplish small tasks. This one isn't easy for most people, but if you think about it there have been times in your life that made you keep work at work. Maybe you had a child, or enrolled in a time consuming masters or doctoral program. I bet during that time you found ways to contain your workload within the confines of the 40 hour week. Try to keep that up, it will give you the energy you need to make each day better.
These are just four resolutions that have made a big difference for me in my education career- but I am curious to hear from you. What resolutions are you making for this school year?
Happy New Year to the teachers and educators who are changing the world every day. 2016-17, let's do this.
Breathe. Take a deep breath in, a deep breath out, repeat.
I have days sometimes where I feel I haven't taken a breath at all. I wake up, begin doing, without pause-without breathing. I scroll through Facebook, then Twitter, then Instagram. Text. Email. Work Email. Slack. Repeat.
Breakfast on the run. Work, looping through the same communication tools, while trying to focus on one task at a time. Lunch at my desk while checking email. Might fit in a workout sometime, if I left myself enough time in the morning and if there aren't evening plans which for a period of time felt like the second work shift. After all of that, some food, maybe a show, a breath, and then sleep.
Last week I attended a retreat at Tassajara Zen Center deep in the Ventana Wilderness in California. I took an unprecedented 5-days-in-a-row vacation and headed to the west coast for time with friends and a new experience, a meditation and yoga retreat: Balanced & Awake. Here are some things I am taking with me from my experience there, that may be of help to you.
1) Meditate Daily.
Meditation has the same effects on me as anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications. You can't feel those effects until a prolonged period of practice. I am so early on my meditation journey, as I have practiced yoga for much longer. A daily meditation practice will be a challenge, but I now see the incredible benefits of a regular practice.
When you do any pose where you arch your back, you often do a counter pose. Each pose has its opposite. In life, we must remember that we can get far off of balance, and it is important every now and then to counterpose. So, if you've spent an hour in front of a screen, it may be a good idea to keep an hour away. If you have been extremely social, you may need some alone time.
3) Finding Balance in Imbalance
We are never totally balanced. Try standing on one foot, you will notice your toes and the balls of your foot moving around to keep you stable. There will never be perfect harmony between your work and life, but we can always strive to move closer. We have to be comfortable in the instability of things.
4) Slow down. You're moving to fast.
Four days without my phone made me realize how our lives are passing us by while we look at other people's lives in our newsfeed, and wait for the validation of our own. Just days after my retreat I feel sucked in to my phone and the instant gratification pace of life.
At least once a month I'd like to attempt "retreat days", where I don't do any work and I just let myself enjoy the day. In the meantime, scheduling and planning yoga and meditation breaks so that I can constantly be reminded to breathe in, breathe out. When we've used our phones up, and the battery is drained we have to plug it in and wait. When your battery is drained, take the time to do the same.
This week I said goodbye to a year of fellowship with 25 innovative educators around the globe. I didn't say goodbye to them, because I hate goodbyes. And because I know I'll see many of them again.
What is a TED-Ed Innovative Educator? As a first time fellowship, our cohort was helping to shape what the program would be. As a new group of "TIEs" are ushered in, I am reflecting on my year and considering what this program has meant to me, and how it has shaped my life.
Finding my voice.
Over sushi and sake one November night in New York City, I learned about the blogs of other educators, how they had built up a network and following and how their writing had helped them grow personally and professionally. As someone who loves to write, I felt it was time to start a blog. So, I wouldn't be writing this reflection for a public audience if it weren't for the TED-Ed Innovative Educators.
My project was ambitious, with a goal of reaching 500 teachers, administrators, community members in my area and sharing TED-Ed. But when you think about a global scale of educators, all doing projects in their own community, 500 didn't seem like too many. The scale of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program made me want to rise to the challenge. I accomplished the goal, but not without help from my other, local innovative educators! In order to learn more about my project, check out the TED-Ed Blog Post that provides step-by-step instructions on how you can create any community of educators.
Innovation has always been a topic of great interest to me, so when I was challenged to do something innovative, I felt stuck. What is truly innovative? Was my project innovative enough for TED-Ed? It was a year-long thought experiment on innovation. Working with others on their projects and watching as projects crossed over and became interrelated- that's where the magic happened. I can't wait to see what the next cohort contributes to this world!
At the end of the day-these people, the 25 others who are scattered around the globe, actually many of them will be convening soon at ISTE and the others at TED Summit. Sadly- I will not be at either event, but I'm thrilled to know that my friends will be together, sharing TED-Ed with others.
My greatest takeaway from the experience and my project, is that you don't need a fellowship to connect with other educators that inspire you. We are all part of this global network, and it's much smaller than you think. When I met three of the TIEs in New York- they referred me to an innovative educator who works in my neighboring district! We would never have met. We live in an age where we can connect through Twitter, at conferences, at EdCamps, at TEDx. Innovative educators are everywhere. You just have to look out for them. Being a passionate educator in a less-than-passionate setting can be challenging. Seek out your people. Create your tribe. Change the world.
The other day I heard a colleague tell me that she just wants to teach. She doesn't want to be a principal, administrator, politician. She just wants to teach. Not days later I heard another colleague say that she was "just a teacher". Both of these women are recognized for their excellence in teaching. They are the best in their field.
Why is it that teachers automatically demote their own profession? When I was in the classroom, and was in the presence of administrators, I would describe myself in the same way. Oh, I'm just a teacher.
Our society does not value the teaching profession the way it should. That old saying, Those who can, do- Those who can't, teach. This makes me cringe every time I hear it. Is this really what you expect for the people that are responsible for the education of our next generation?
Starting salaries in Alabama for teachers are just over $30,000. Hardly competitive compared to most other professions. Teachers are constantly under public scrutiny for the ills of public education. Teachers are blamed or praised for students' test scores, for attendance, discipline, students' performance. Most teachers have been told at some point that a students' performance was their responsibility. To an extent, of course, teachers can have an impact on all of these areas. But for such high expectations, we sure do not reward or compensate teachers equivalent to what we expect.
We hold teachers on an incredibly high pedestal but we give them very little to keep them up there. $300 for classrooms supplies (in AL)- anything else is up to you. Non-competitive salary with little room to grow and no incentives for excellent performance or taking on extra responsibilities. In fact, one of the only ways we reward teachers is through recognition. Teacher recognitions and awards are so important for the profession, but do they help to elevate the profession as a whole? Is the small chance of winning an award going to recruit quality people into the teaching profession?
Teacher shortage and teacher retention is a very real problem. To see how your state stacks up, check out this Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing. Look at each state ten years ago compared to today, and you can see that we are not in good shape. Of particular concern are the gaps in critical areas, like Math and Science at the secondary level. Or teachers who are certified to teach students of special needs or the gifted.
We take our teachers for granted and we do not as an institution treat teachers professionally. I think this is why teachers might reply that they are 'just a teacher' when asked what they do in mixed company.
This has to stop. Teachers and education professionals are just as valuable as every other profession and they should be treated that way. The next time someone asks you what you do, say proudly that you are a teacher, or whatever role you hold in the education system. They are all important. And teaching is the most important. Say it with pride, because you are so much more than just a teacher.
I've been thinking about fearless leadership in education. In recent months, I've observed problems that would take a great amount of courage to solve. Is fearlessness a prerequisite to leadership?
I am a fearful person. I'm afraid that I am not a good leader. I'm afraid that the things I am doing will not be enough to make change. I'm afraid that the problems we are trying to solve are just too huge, too intractable. I'm afraid that I left my hair straightener on. This fear motivates me to be better, but it is also my enemy.
In my investigation of fearless leadership I was surprised that the most common result of the search is the character Fearless Leader from Rocky & Bullwinkle, one of my mom's favorite shows. I loved it too- I went down memory lane on Youtube to learn more about Fearless Leader! The villain has the traits of what I would consider to be a fearful leader, one who relies only on power of position for authority. Fearless Leader is watching Rocky and Bullwinkle from a satellite from a "sinister room" in Pottsylvania. He rules by yelling and scaring his subordinates, like Boris Badenov. A show famous for "Fractured Fairy Tales", and witty dry humor, the Fearless Leader character is an ironic portrayal of poor leadership.
I've studied leadership, I read about it frequently and listen to audiobooks. This is my disclaimer that basically- I know nothing. But here are some of the patterns I've found.
1) Leaders who rule by creating fear are not fearless.
I've observed people who are in leadership positions that they are not prepared for, and where they are not supported. The strategy for these leaders becomes a "my way or the highway" attitude, or "because I said so" when questioned. Or they try to create an environment in which employees do not have a voice, where they are fearful to question. These leaders are full of fear, and are not leaders, because their followers are only followers because of the position they hold and not because they believe in the person they are following.
2) Fearless leaders admit when they are wrong.
Fearless leaders have a strong understanding of what they know and what they don't know. Leaders who pretend to know everything are dangerous. In most organizations, it would be extremely challenging to be an expert in all subjects. Education is highly specialized and many teachers and administrators have a narrow span of expertise. None of us know everything there is to know- the best way to learn more is to change your setting and challenge yourself. Even then, there will be so much to learn. If a fearless leader makes a mistake, they admit it and they apologize. And they move on.
3) Fearless leaders don't make excuses.
They understand that excuse making is a big waste of time. They don't do it, and they don't tolerate it from their employees. We're in education. Our work is dependent on societal factors such as parenting, socio-economics, state and local policies, local school boards, the State Department, etc. etc. For everything you could be doing to help kids, there's some excuse out there why you can't. At the same time, almost always you could find someone who is doing the work, despite those factors, and doing it well. No more excuses.
4) Fearless education leaders do what's best for the student. Always.
Fearless leaders in education do what's best for the student, not what's best for the adults. What's best for the adults is almost always easiest. What's best for adults is met with the least opposition and will get adults the time/money/resources what they need. But is it really what's best for the students? The best education leaders put the students first, 100% of the time. If this means that an adult or a group of adults is getting in the way of that mission- it means fearlessly standing up to them and not tolerating that behavior. Far too often, education leaders choose the path of least resistance.
We need more fearless leaders in education, and we need to be developing teachers and leaders to be bold and unafraid. Fear keeps teachers from trying new things. Fear makes teachers feel that they don't have a voice, or that their students and parents don't have a voice. Fear creates stress, anxiety, and depression. Fear removes the joy from teaching. Fear has no business in our schools. The fearless leader can create a culture of love instead of fear. This is who we need leading our schools and school systems.
During the great Southern Snowpocalypse of 2014 I was holed up in my little garage apartment with my books and my thoughts. I had recently learned about the Minimalists and downloaded their book Everything that Remains: A Memoir which reminded me that our things are not what's most important in life. With this reminder and a little time on my hands I managed to fill several trashbags full of possessions I didn't need any more. Once the snow and ice melted, my items went to consignment, to good will, and into the trash. I had more space, more clarity, and more peace of mind.
The minimalist movement hasn't gone away, and years later The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo can be found on bedside tables everywhere of those individuals who have gone through the exercise of discovering which of their possessions spark joy in their life. I have put the KonMari method to the test in my own home with incredible results. Between the Minimalists, Marie Kondo, an countless other messages that we should be simplifying our lives, could some of this apply to our work in education?
Schools and districts have a way of adding on without ever taking away. In our houses, if we did this we would end up on Hoarders. I've worked in several school settings and this one seems to be a constant, and happens at every level of the institution. I'd love to hear from readers if they've also witnessed this phenomenon.
At the level of the classroom, a teacher may learn something new each year and continually layer that on top of the curriculum, without getting rid of older content and activities. This is how we get accused of curriculum that is a "mile wide and an inch deep". It is important as educators to continually evolve with students. If something isn't working, ditch it and find something new. Some of this is not the choice of the teacher, and they are required to add on to their existing practice through school or district policies. As professionals, educators have to sift through it all and decide what is best for the students sitting in class each day.
If you are a good employee who is ready and willing to take on any challenge-watch out. You may be asked to take on many activities that go above and beyond your call of duty. On the one hand, this can provide teachers with leadership opportunities and experiences, but on the other hand, it can lead to burnout. The best way to deal with this as an administrator is to make sure that as you are adding on to a teacher's plate, there may be something you can take away. Or at the very least you can provide assistance or support. We should constantly be scanning our schools to say, "Is this really the best use of students' and teachers' time?". If the answer is no, get rid of it.
School districts are in the unfortunate position of deciding what's best for ALL of their schools, employees, students, and families. The larger the district, the harder this becomes. Each school has its own unique personality, demographics, and likely different needs, but for financial and organizational reasons districts tend to apply the same interventions across the board. If we add on leadership and teacher turnover into the equation it can become a constant churn of layering where new initiatives are being introduced all the time. The layers continue to pile up on teachers and students.
Sometimes, the district decides on its own to try a new sweeping reform, but sometimes the state or legislature decides for all schools what is best. Districts then have to follow these policies and communicate them to all stakeholders, often with little time for explanation or buy-in.
And sometimes even the state has no control of a national policy. No Child Left Behind is the most appropriate example from my career; a national policy that shaped what we taught, how we taught it, and how it was assessed for nearly a decade.
So as we look at all of these different entities and how they apply pressure down the system for new and improved curriculum, assessment, and school reform it is no wonder that so many feel helpless to change the system. We are layering and layering new ideas, strategies, policies, experiments, assessments, curriculum, technology, textbooks, frameworks, programs, all without stopping to figure out if there are some things in our closet that we might be able to get rid of. If at every level we pause every now and then to think of what these things are, bag them up, and put them out on the curb, I think we would find ourselves working in healthier systems with a little more breathing room. When we do this, the most important, most effective, and most joyful elements of education could rise to the highest priority. Perhaps instead of looking at what we should add, we should begin looking at what we could take away.
In January, I quit my membership to the gym after 7 years. It was a tough decision, because just having that membership made me feel fit, even if I only went once a week. Over the past 7 years I've gone through Yoga phases, Pilates phases, a Zumba phase, Pure Barre, Spinning, or whatever the latest craze might be. Some of those stuck with me, others have been fleeting. But they almost all have one thing in common, which is amazing differentiated instruction.
I'll take Yoga as an example of an exercise that does a great job differentiating instruction for all levels. In one class, there could be students from 18 to 80. Some may have injuries that prevent them from certain moves. Some students are more flexible than others, and some are stronger than others. Some students may have been practicing for one year and others may have been practicing for ten. An instructor has to make sure that every single one of these people is both challenging themselves, but not pushing themselves so far that they could hurt themselves. In education we call this scaffolding. All students, all the time, deserve to be appropriately challenged.
So how do they do it? First, they have tools that help people to reach their goals. In yoga, it is sometimes a block or a strap. Someone that can't touch the floor with their fingertips may have the support they need with a block and be able to practice the same pose as the rest of the class. I am not very flexible, so I often use a strap to help me stretch by wrapping it around my foot, if my hands can't reach. It's just the little bit of help I need to be successful. In addition to providing supports, the teachers are often frequently providing extensions. These extensions might mean releasing your hands from the floor or the block and using your core for support. Another extension used often in yoga are balance poses such as the crow pose that are very challenging. The instructor will say, if you are comfortable and it is part of your practice, please continue into (Balance Pose). Everyone else stays where they are and they are still challenged.
I mentioned that I quit the gym recently, and that was to try an online fitness service called The Daily Burn. Now the workouts are completely on my own time and at my own pace. In each workout program, there is a modifier, who is modeling a beginner version of the workout. There is also someone who is extending the workout and making it more challenging. Through the whole workout you can choose which one works for you, right that moment.
So how does all this translate to education? In the classroom it might look like flexible small groups based on mastery. The groups are not homogenous or heterogenous, but rather group the students at their ability on different skills and give students the supports or extensions that they need to be challenged and experience success. Students are all different, all the time. While I might need a block for one pose, I can do the extension on another. During a workout video, I might follow the modifier sometimes and then challenge myself during the times when I feel like it's too easy. Wouldn't it be amazing if students could learn like this? Unfortunately in education we have a tendency to sort students out into permanent groups with labels and programs, but we should approach education with the idea that every student has strengths, and every student has areas of growth. Our job is to make the most of the strengths and to support the weaknesses.
This carries up to the level of the teacher as well. Like the students, not all teachers need the same level of support. But we insist on sitting teachers down and feeding them information. Training and professional development are rarely differentiated for teachers, but we expect teachers to differentiate for their students without modeling it for them.
The next time you're in a workout class or watching a video of one, check out what the instructors are doing to make sure that all students are successful. Provide choices. See all students as needing both advancement and support at different times. Use tools that help students reach their goals. Make sure all students are challenged enough to love learning no matter where they are.
Building a fire is one of the best metaphors for an education career. Each stage of building a fire, and the life of a fire has parallels in the education career. I haven't written for the past months because I've been exhausted. There was one week where every day I got home from work I put on my pajamas immediately. Has that ever happened to you?
I think it's because my fire was down to glowing embers, without enough fuel to keep going. I'm just now emerging from this time and I have a feeling I may not be alone so I thought it would be important to share, and think through how I can keep the fire burning steadily, without dying out or creating an explosion. If you have stories you can share, please share in the comments or blog about it and share with me. As we consider the fire of a teaching career, the following fire-building tips may help us, courtesy of Smokey Bear.
How to Build a Fire:
1) Gather three types of wood (Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel)
I consider these our tools. This is the knowledge and experience needed to be a good teacher. Maybe it's the pre-service teaching, or the higher ed institution that prepared you for teaching. Not only do we need these before we start teaching, we need them desperately in the first couple years of teaching. Mentorship is one of the most important components of a teachers' development and support systems. Unfortunately many schools do not have strong mentoring programs due to budgetary constraints. One of the most often cited reasons for teachers leaving the profession is lack of support. The structures underneath the fire are critical for it to start.
2) Add Kindling in One of these Methods: Tipi, Cross, Lean-To, Log Cabin
Related to the gathering of wood, our materials and resources can't be haphazard. They have to be strategic and planned. Too often schools throw materials at teachers. A new form to fill out, a new lesson plan template, a new education technology, the latest education buzzword. As an early adopter who is overly enthusiastic about new and shiny things--I may be guilty of this. As education administrators we have a responsibility to think carefully and plan the structures under which we are going to build programs and new instructional models. It is our job to create clarity among the noise.
3) Ignite the tinder with a match or lighter.
Over the course of your career there are many times where the fire slowly starts to die out. Or, maybe you haven't gotten started yet. Someone or something has got to ignite the fire to get it going. It's got to start somewhere. Over my career, my ignition has not always come from inside my school system. Thinking back, the ignition often came from other educators, an inspirational book or speaker, or professional programs that connected me to other teachers like me. It might have been a letter from a parent or a student telling me that I meant something. There are so many little points along the way that can ignite the spark. Seek these opportunities out and don't take for granted the ones that find you. They will help you keep your fire going strong.
4) Add more tinder as the fire grows.
You can't walk away from the fire. Even though we need supports in the first couple of years does not mean that support should ever go away. Every professional at every level of education deserves quality professional development. Teachers and leaders need the resources to do the job to the best of their ability. This is not always material resources (trust me, we have gotten used to working off of limited resources). But it can be emotional resources, or social resources that keep our fire from slowly dying. It could be as simple as saying "Thank You".
5) Keep the fire small and under control.
Of course, Smokey doesn't want to see the fire spread across the whole forest. A large fire can get out of our control. Sometimes it feels like we might be in the middle of a fire that is out of our control. As lawmakers that have not been in classrooms pass laws that affect them, administrators often have no choice but to respond. When these laws are not thought out well, it creates chaos in the system where educators are constantly reacting, rather than being proactive. I am so proud of fellow Alabama educators who are inviting lawmakers to classrooms. The only way this is going to get under control is through communication and understanding. Check out the NPR piece: In Alabama, Teachers School Lawmakers. Sometimes even when we've built a manageable fire and have things under our control, there are external fires that may consume the little one we have going.
I admit that my fire burned out for a little while there. There were some little glowing embers that could be used to get the fire picking up again. I found some sources of inspiration and ignition, and sought out the sources of support that I needed to keep going. Because I need to keep going. And you do too. Think of the faces of the students who need you. It could be your class of 25, it could be the hundreds of students in your school, it could be the thousands in your school district. Whoever they are, they need you. They need you at your strongest, most on-fire self.
Education careers are tough. These entries are dedicated to making the lives of educators easier and empowering those who have chosen this path to reach their potential in work and life.